I’ve had the remarkable privilege to serve as one of two senior pastors. Mark Grace, my husband, is my co-pastor at Bill Harrod Memorial Baptist Church—Iglesia Bill Harrod—for almost five years now. Our church is in Dallas, Texas, and we work as bivocational ministers and together provide a mere twenty hours (well, most weeks it stays that low!) of ministry per week.
In many ways my ministry is a dream come true. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Carson-Newman College and working eight years as an industrial engineer in Virginia and South Carolina, I dedicated my life to full-time ministry and left my career to enroll in the Master of Divinity degree program at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. I studied with, among many wonderful professors, Molly Marshall. After seminary, I was ordained in 1988 by First Southern Baptist Church of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and trained as a hospital chaplain and an educator of chaplains and ministers through the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education. I have served more than twenty years as a hospital chaplain and pastoral educator and director of pastoral care at four hospitals in Pennsylvania and Texas.
I was called to minister among the believers at Iglesia Bill Harrod because the women and men of this church took a courageous stand to invite women to fill their pulpit. They have loved and supported me every step of the way. I believe that the foundation for my ministry was laid back in the forties, fifties, and sixties through the work of Juanita Bailey. That foundation continues to be built upon to this time through the ministry of strong women, including Benita Villa and our church administrator Elsa Cadena. There are so many other women I could name who have stepped forward to do the work of Christ here in West Dallas that it is impossible to include them all! They and their families were transformed by the power and grace of Christ in the most difficult of circumstances and now they are helping others to find Christ’s transforming love.
I am deeply humbled to share in the lives of the wonderful folk who live in West Dallas and to have them share in mine. Mark and I recently moved from our home in a suburb south of Dallas into a home we built in West Dallas because we have fallen in love with the people of this congregation. Although the area we now live is the 11th poorest zip code in the country, our church’s strong tradition is one of active outreach and fulfills in so many ways the dream that Cesar Chavez articulated when he was asked what was needed from churches: “We don’t ask for more cathedrals. We don’t ask for bigger churches or fine gifts . . . . We ask the church to sacrifice with the people for social change, for justice, and for love of brother. We don’t ask for words. We ask for deeds. We don’t ask for paternalism. We ask for servanthood.”
I don’t think I could say it better than we say it on our website when we talk about who we are as a congregation. “We are a bilingual, multiracial and multicultural community of Bible believers who affirm the biblical equality of all those who follow Christ. We support the full partnership of women and men in ministry. We believe that the abundant life Jesus promised is for every human being, for there is “neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, free nor slave,” (Galatians 3:28) documented nor undocumented, no West Dallas nor the rest of Dallas, no rich nor poor, for we are all one in Christ. We affirm the truth that we are all equally sinful, equally broken and equally in need of God’s grace given to us through Christ to save us from sin.”
Linda C. Wilkerson is pastor of Iglesia Bill Harrod, Dallas, Texas.